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CURRY MALLET, St. James  (ST 334 209),


(Bedrock:  Lower Jurassic, Blue Lias Formation.)


Another late fifteenth century Somerset church,

displaying contrasting construction materials.


This is an attractive church in Perpendicular style, containing some notable Jacobean (or perhaps, more strictly, Stuart) carpentry.  It is constructed of steely-grey 'blue' lias with golden Ham Hill dressings, and formed of a chancel, a nave with a N. aisle, S. chapel and S. porch, and a W. tower.  Only the tower, its turret, and the N. aisle are embattled. The tall, independently-gabled chapel (seen left, in the photograph of the church from the southeast) runs alongside the two eastern bays of the nave, and the porch follows immediately to the west and abuts the chapel to the east.   The majority form of the church windows has three lights and alternate tracery filled with subreticulation, surrounded by a casement moulding and hollow chamfer, and there is one of these in the S. wall of the nave (west of the porch), two more in the S. wall of the chapel, one each in the E. and W. walls of the N. aisle, and three more in the N. wall.  The chapel E. window (illustrated left) and tower  W. window are four-light with subarcuation of the lights in pairs and through-reticulation.   (See the glossary for an explanation of these terms.)  The chancel is lit by a renewed two-centred E. window, and a square-headed S. window towards the west and similar N. window in the centre, formed of three large rectangles divided by heavy mullions. The porch is windowless;  the outer doorway carries a single flat chamfer that dies into the jambs, and within, a three-centred E. doorway communicates directly with the chapel and a two-centred doorway with a complex Perpendicular profile and a niche above, now containing a statuette of the Virgin and Child, leads forward into the nave. 


The tower rises in three stages, supported by set-back buttresses and with a prominent polygonal turret at the northeast angle, rising above the tower itself by the height of an additional parapet decorated with blank trefoiled arches, inserted below the battlements.  The tower bell-openings have trefoil-cusped ogee lights and the kind of pierced stone infill below the springing, sometimes referred to as 'Somerset tracery', that takes the place of wooden louvres in many of the county's Perpendicular churches.


Inside the church, the three-bay N. arcade (shown right, from the southwest) is composed of arches bearing two wave mouldings separated by a casement, springing from piers formed of what would be the standard four-shafts-separated-by-casements design but for the fact that both shafts and casements are unusually wide and deeply cut, suggesting to Pevsner the work was only fourteenth century in date (The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2003, p. 145), although another explanation might be to attribute it merely to the idiosyncrasy of a fifteenth century mason.  The chancel arch (the left jamb of which is illustrated, left), very tall tower arch, and very wide chapel arch from the nave (where a single bay opens into two), are panelled around the archivolts in another local style, seen also, for example, at St. George's, Hinton St. George, All Saints, Martock and St. Mary’s, Norton-sub-Hamdon.  These buildings, or at least, the relevant parts of them, are all attributable to the late fifteenth century and, at least in some cases, probably also to the same firm of masons.  The panelling here is two bays wide, and variously trefoil-cusped and two-centred or ogee-pointed, either at the top only or, sometimes, at the top and bottom.  The remains of the rood stair are visible to the east of the N. aisle for no attempt has been made to hide the tall blocked doorway even though the only sign of the exit above is now just a little horizontal slit.  


The church is one of the few in south Somerset to contain some significant furnishings – chiefly carpentry, although also including three or four seventeenth century monuments.  These include one on the W. wall of the chapel dedicated to John Pyne (d. 1609) and his wife (near right), featuring effigies of the couple facing each other over a prayer-desk, flanked by black alabaster Ionic columns supporting an open pediment.   A dislocated fragment of a monument on the N. wall of the chancel, comprising a man with a ruff and a beard holding a Bible above an unreadable inscription, commemorates Ralph Mighill (d. 1633) (The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset, p. 146), while in the N. aisle, a small recumbent mediaeval effigy (approximately 3' in length) lies on a tomb-chest against the E. wall and a diminutive wall monument on the N. wall (far right) depicts a woman kneeling at a prayer desk with Ionic columns at the sides and two reclining girls beneath, probably signifying daughters that predeceased her. 


The carpentry includes the attractive wagon roof to the chapel and the lean-to roof to the aisle - the work, it would appear, of different hands, although both might date rather loosely from c. 1500.  Seventeenth century work includes the panelling around the chancel, the table on the N. side of the sanctuary, a wooden screen between the nave and the chapel, standing on a low modern base and supported on four balusters, the majority of the pews down the centre of the nave, and most importantly, the panels on top of the modern screen that now fills the tower arch (pictured below).  The latter requires a more detailed description.  It consists of three principal panels featuring the Mallet arms in the centre, the Crucifixion to the left, and the Nativity to the right, separated by figures of the saints, who support the entablature.  The openwork upper tier between the pinnacles depicts scenes from the Old Testament.